The field is being narrowed as Newton County Collector Jim Otey prepares for the annual tax sale next week.
Otey explained that all county collectors are charged by the state to offer the county’s tax liens for auction when the payment of taxes on properties falls behind.
On the fourth Monday in August each year, Otey said the liens on properties that are at least two-years behind are offered to bidders. However, he said Newton County allows property owners to carry one year of delinquency.
“So in most cases, where they are two years behind, we require them to pay the earliest of the two years, and allow them to carry one year of delinquency,” he said. “I always advise them that they are financially ahead if they can come up with the money to get caught up, but in most cases we understand that they probably can’t because of the position they are in.”
Otey said sometimes taxes are owed for multiple years, and those must be paid up so that a maximum of one year of taxes remains due to prevent the lien from being offered in the auction.
“That’s not uncommon either,” he noted. “There may be properties that have three or four years of taxes due, and in those cases we would require them to pay three of the four years, and carry the one year.”
Otey said he is ordered to start the sale at 10 a.m. on the fourth Monday of August, which is the 25th this year. He maintained that delinquent taxes may be paid up to that point to prevent their offering in the sale, but once the sale begins, the payment of taxes is cut off.
Otey said bidders are offered the county’s lien on the property.
“But with that comes the possibility that one calendar year from the day of the sale – an individual, if he or she has done what they are supposed to do, and no one has come back to reclaim the property – that they can actually acquire a deed to the property,” he said.
He said successful bidders are basically buying interest in the property with the possible culmination of that interest in one year. If the property owner was to catch up on their taxes within that year, they would reclaim their property, and Otey said the buyer would be refunded their money, plus interest.
He said the annual tax sale attracts a mix of people.
“Some are there truly trying to acquire property for a variety of different reasons,” he said. “Some are looking for rentals, some look for land to hunt on, some of them look for vacant land they can build on, but we also have a subset of people who are here trying to pick properties that they believe will be redeemed or reclaimed because they are there to make money on their money. They have no intent or desire to own the property, they would prefer not to.”
He explained that there are ways to determine if a property has liens against it and the likelihood of it being reclaimed, and noted that a mortgage company would want to protect their interest in their loan and investment.
“So they’re looking for those types of points that would indicate that there’s a high probability that it will be redeemed,” Otey said.
He stated that most properties are redeemed eventually. Otey said the process began by making notification that more than 800 county properties were delinquent in their taxes, and that number had been trimmed to 209 by late last week. He said last year’s sale was the largest in his tenure, when about 64 properties were offered.
“Over my 12 years here, about 50 percent will sell at the action,” Otey said. “And of the 50 percent that sell at the auction, maybe 10 or 20 percent get to a deed, at the most.”
The county collector’s office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Otey said payment of delinquent taxes may be made by certified funds, cashier’s check, credit cards, or cash. No personal checks are allowed for the earliest years, but he said a check may be used to pay the most recent year of delinquency.